"We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful." -- Warren Buffett

Of all the Oracle of Omaha's orations, this one holds a special place in Foolish investors' hearts. When looking to bag a bargain, a panicked sell-off by jittery investors offers you a great chance to snap up stocks on the cheap.

In the short term, professional traders' pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Desperate institutions lower their asking prices to get rid of a stock, prompting buyers' bid prices to fall in tandem, creating the very price decline that both sides feared in the first place -- until the selling stops.

Until it does, savvy investors can "get greedy," snapping up bargains from these fearful sellers. (Assuming they really are bargains.) In today's column, we'll see which stocks Wall Street's motivated sellers are most frantic to unload -- and whether you should buy 'em:

Companies

Recent Price

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

W&T Offshore  (NYSE:WTI)

$8.52

*****

Allied Irish Banks  (NASDAQ:AIB)

$3.20

****

Bank of Ireland  (NYSE:IRE)

$6.61

****

Hecla Mining  (NYSE:HL)

$4.57

***

Century Aluminum

$10.83

***

Companies are selected from the "Institutional Ownership Down Last Month" list published on MSN Money after close of trading on Friday. Recent prices and CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

Up on Wall Street, the pinstripe-and-wingtip crowd can't sell these stocks fast enough, but down here on Main Street, we're a more patient bunch. Judging from the star-ratings, CAPS members don't seem overly worried about any of these companies' prospects -- and they're downright bullish on three of 'em.

Right now, top marks go to independent oilman W&T Offshore. Let's find out why. 

The bull case for W&T Offshore
Why buy W&T Offshore? CAPS members lay out a three part buy thesis for us, beginning with ColourPurple's four-word truism: "WE ALL NEED OIL."

Moving on to Part 2, CAPS All-Star Trimalerus pointed out back in March that: "Most of the land-based oil deposits are tapped out, all of the best new deposits are being found offshore."

And last but not least, Bogey02 sees W&T as offering a: "Low PE, earnings revising up, and I believe that oil prices will mount ahead of a global recovery." Bogey02 also sees W&T's book value as offering some downside protection for the stock.

So let's look at that book value for a moment, and find out just how solid a foundation it lays -- more specifically, let's examine the value of W&T's key asset: Its proven reserves of oil and gas.

At last report, W&T boasted proven reserves of 84.6 million barrels of oil equivalent, split almost evenly between petroleum and natural gas. Valued at the current NYMEX crude futures price of about $72 per barrel, that works out to roughly $6.1 billion in asset value for W&T -- more than five times the company's current enterprise value. (Or turned on its head, the valuation suggests that W&T is trading for an 81% discount to the value of its assets.)

Of course, as the old saying goes, "a gallon of oil in the barrel is worth two in a bush." (Actually, it doesn't, but it could in Texas.) It costs money to bring those in-the-ground assets to market. This, along with W&T's debt load -- it's on the high end of debt-to-capital for its peers -- probably helps explain why W&T as a whole is "worth less" than the value of its assets. The question we as investors need to ask is whether W&T is being priced at a discount to other oil companies -- if it is, then that is when we'll know we've found a bargain.

So, for comparison, let's look at a few other big oil plays:

Company

Reserves Value

Enterprise Value

Size of Discount

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM)

$1700 billion

$304 billion

82%

Chevron (NYSE:CVX)

$825 billion

$146 billion

82%

ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)

$684 billion

$102 billion

85%

So what does this table tell us? Firstly, that W&T's "discount" isn't really that much of a bargain, inasmuch as you can claim a similar discount by buying the shares of either Exxon Mobil or Chevron -- and get a larger, more stable company, with a lower debt-to-capital ratio and a larger dividend in the process.

Secondly -- for those of you not as frightened by W&T's debt load (nearly $600 million compared to total capital of $930 million) -- you can get all the stability of a large cap oil major, triple W&T's puny 1.4% dividend, and claim a bigger discount to asset value simply by buying ConocoPhillips.

Foolish takeaway
Is oil nearing its peak and will energy firms profit as supplies dwindle? My answers would be "maybe" and "certainly," in that order. But any way I look at it, W&T looks to be the wrong way to play this trend. There are plenty of better bargains available, and you don't even have to look very far to find them.

And this means there's every reason to be fearful of W&T Offshore.

Of course, that's just my opinion, and seeing as it's a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick, clearly, Foolish minds can differ on this stock. If you disagree, and believe there's something I'm missing in the W&T Offshore story, here's your chance to tell me about it. Click over to Motley Fool CAPS now, and sound off.)

Motley Fool CAPS : It's fun, it's free, and it just might make you famous.

Allied Irish Banks is a Global Gains pick.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 644 out of more than 145,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.